"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Houston Riot of 1917

The primary cause of the Houston riot was the habitual brutality of the white police officers of Houston in their treatment of colored people. Contributing causes were (1) the mistake made in not arming members of the colored provost guard or military police, (2) lax discipline at Camp Logan which permitted promiscuous visiting at the camp and made drinking and immorality possible among the soldiers. ~ Martha Gruenig, Crisis Magazine, November 1917

The Houston Riot of 1917 was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American race relations. It vividly illustrated the problems that the nation struggled with on the home front during wartime. ~ Texas State Historical Association

On August 23, 1917 soldiers from the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment 3rd Battalion stationed in Houston to guard the construction of Camp Logan, a training facility, marched on the Fourth Ward police station and were met outside the camp by police and armed citizens. Four policemen, four soldiers and 12 civilians were killed in the confrontation, and 19 soldiers were eventually executed. No white soldiers or Houston residents were charged with any crimes.

Around noon that day, police dragged an African American woman from her home and arrested her for public drunkenness. A soldier from  the camp asked what was going on, and was beaten and arrested as well. When Cpl. Charles Baltimore, an MP, learned of the arrest he went to the police station to investigate. He was beaten, then shot at as he was chased away. Rumors soon reached the camp that Baltimore had been killed, and that a white mob was approaching. Soldiers armed themselves and began their march toward the city.

Martial law was declared the next day, and two days later the African American soldiers were sent back to New Mexico where they had been previously stationed. A series of three court-martials were held from November 1917 through March 1918, with seven soldiers testifying in exchange for clemency. The trials were held in San Antonio with no publicity or review from the U. S. War Department, and the first executions were carried out with two day's notice and only a few officers present.

The New York chapter of the NAACP petitioned President Wilson for clemency. The War Department had issued a ruling that "all death sentences be suspended until the President of the United States could review all records". Wilson commuted the sentences of ten of the eleven soldiers sentenced at the third court-martial, sentencing them to life in prison.

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